Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Inadvertent Lessons

With schools removing soda machines and fried food from their cafeterias and upping the number of phys ed classes per week, it seems like the whole nation has gotten on the bandwagon of "send healthy messages" when it comes to raising kids. I liken it to smoking: since you can't smoke in public anywhere anymore, and cigarettes are not advertised on TV or radio, I wasn't too surprised when my 5-year-old, Ben, asked me one day, "Mom, what's a cigarette?" If kids are surrounded by healthy options and messages, they'll accept them as the norm, a lifestyle, and make healthy choices. Helping them understand how the different foods impact their bodies and behaviors also helps a lot. Ben knows that if he eats too much sugar, it makes him feel "wacky" (his term). This makes it easier for me to say no when he asks for a second cookie, because he understands that he will not like what it does to his body.

So I was thrown a bit off guard one day when I was sitting in the pediatrician's office with my boys and a mother walked in with her three children, checked in with the receptionist and then sat down in the waiting room and proceeded to take donuts out of a Dunkin’ Donuts bag and give one to each of her overweight children. I had to try hard not to stare. Isn’t that akin to walking into a police station and lighting a joint? Isn't a donut the most unhealthy thing you can feed your children? This seemed to me like an outright mocking of the doctor in whose office we were sitting, not to mention extreme hypocrisy. When my youngest pointed out with great excitement, "hey mom, they have donuts!" all I could say was, "yes, they do."

Maybe I'm going a bit over the top. Have I been brainwashed by all the legislation, modifications and constant messages we've been bombarded with lately about child obesity and the need for a shift in habits? Not completely. I let my kids eat a munchkin every now and then when we're out on a shopping trip. I guess what bothered me more was the fact that this mom knew she would be out with her kids at meal or snack time, and had a choice to pack a snack. Instead she chose to make a special stop on the way to the doctor's office to buy them donuts. More than the sugar and calories, this feeds the children multiple messages: you don't need to plan ahead, since there’s always some fast food place you can stop on your way to wherever you’re going; any snack is fine, as long as it takes away the hunger; staying healthy only involves going to the doctor on schedule every year and getting your shots--it has nothing to do with how you live your life.

In fact, the mom probably didn't think too much about it. Or maybe the kids made a special request. Either way, I've been there and know that we all have those days. But I've also learned that I feel better when I eat better. What I'm hoping is that the doctor in that office saw some evidence of their snack and brought up the topic when he or she was giving the kids their physicals. If it's only a matter of educating the family, it would have been a perfect place to start. And while it may be harder for mom to change her old habits, it will be better for the kids if they don't get into the same habit now.

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